The Persecution of Alex Rodriguez

Baseball broke all the rules and harassed its employees simply because they had the gall to outwit their boss. So that’s why they call it America’s pastime

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After nearly two months’ lull—presumably baseball had to break for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Orthodox Christmas—the persecution of Alex Rodriguez resumed on Saturday. Following weeks of hearings, an arbitrator announced that he would shave only 49 games off the Yankee third baseman’s performance-enhancing-drug suspension, leaving him with a 162-game—or full-season—ban from competition. The ruling strips Rodriguez of a season’s worth of paychecks ($25 million) and at-bats, ensuring that he will remain more than 100 home runs behind Barry Bonds’s all-time record when he turns the ancient-in-baseball age of 39.

Things turned sourer still on Sunday evening, when 60 Minutes aired its supposed investigation into the Rodriguez case, asking all the wrong questions and carrying the league’s water.

Correspondent Scott Pelley landed the first extended on-camera sit-down with Rodriguez’s alleged drug supplier, Anthony Bosch. He also snagged Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, Rob Manfred (the league’s chief operating officer and Selig’s presumed successor) and Joe Tacopina, Rodriguez’s lawyer — every one of the case’s public principals, excepting Rodriguez himself.

Bosch detailed to Pelley how he came to meet Rodriguez: The ball player had asked Bosch to do for him what he once had done for Manny Ramirez. Rodriguez wanted to be the first member of the 800-home-run club. Bosch says he gave Rodriguez prohibited injections, creams and lozenges. Onscreen graphics displayed a series of BlackBerry messages between Bosch and what the league told Pelley was a BlackBerry owned by Rodriguez. The logs spill over with the euphemisms of buyers and dealers; the pair writes of “gummies” and “cojetes” but never “testosterone” or “IGF-1.”

Then the story’s focus shifted from Bosch to baseball’s investigation. Pelley asked Selig why he imposed such a punishment on Rodriguez and went to such great lengths to uncover evidence of his wrongdoing; Selig replied that Rodriguez’s actions were “beyond comprehension.” Pelley had Manfred explain how the league built its case, how it came by its evidence (beaming, he says MLB bought it from a man known only as “Bobby,” for $125,000) and how it authenticated the documents (by suing Bosch, then cutting a deal with him). And then Manfred intimated to Pelley that Rodriguez had, essentially, put out a hit on Bosch. Tacopina was given time to issue a handful of pro forma denials, Manfred had the last word — “The fact of the matter is the evidence in the case contains no denial from Mr. Rodriguez” — and then the broadcaster closed things out. “Part of [Bud Selig’s] legacy is the establishment of the toughest anti-doping rules in all of American pro sports,” he said, seemingly unaware of any irony, as 60 Minutes cut to commercial.

“Rules!” Huh. It’s funny that Pelley associates Selig’s recent anti-doping crusade with rules. The Joint Drug Agreement—the rules—establish a protocol by which players will be tested for performance-enhancing drugs. If a player fails a test, then he will be punished. Unlike four other Bosch clients, Rodriguez never failed a test.

But wait, MLB will say. The league’s drug policy makes room for “just cause” suspensions, allowing the Commissioner to punish any player whom he knows to have taken performance-enhancing substances. How, though, does MLB know for sure that Rodriguez took any performance-enhancing substances? How can the league trust “Bobby’s” evidence? Bobby’s a convicted criminal, and the documents were stolen. And the man tasked with authenticating them — Anthony Bosch — had not only pretended to be a doctor and dealt controlled substances, but had in exchange for his cooperation taken money from MLB for his security and attorneys’ fees, and the league’s word that it would put in a good word with federal prosecutors, should they ever come calling.

Here’s Manfred, to Pelley: “I think that Mr. Bosch’s credibility on these issues, whatever his motivations, whatever we did for him, was established by his willingness to come in, raise his right hand, testify, and by the fact that he had all sorts of evidence that supported everything that he said. … The credibility of any witness is determined by a trial of fact, by looking the individual in the eye, listening to the story he tells and then lining it up with the other evidence.”

Yep, baseball looked Tony Bosch in the eye, agreed to drop its lawsuit against him, agreed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars of his expenses, and agreed to use its numerous contacts in law enforcement—all kinds of former FBI agents were hired just for the investigation—to help him out in the future. Then the league could be certain he was telling the truth!

Funny that when Rodriguez wired Bosch’s attorney $50,000, that was called “a bribe,” worthy of Selig’s scorn plus additional discipline beyond the usual penalty for a first offense. Funny that when Rodriguez bought some Biogenesis documents, that was obstruction of an investigation. When the league went to purchase the documents, it was the investigation. Funny, too, that the league’s drug agreement guarantees confidentiality, which in this case was not so much breached as it was entirely disregarded. (That promise is evidently contingent on whether the sports running baseball want to take out their toy guns and badges and feel especially macho that week.)

One would be foolish to think that what’s really at stake here is Rodriguez’s drug use. (Pelley and his producers seemed to—he even asked Bosch a question about “the integrity of the game”—and that’s part of the reason 60 Minutes’s report failed.) Rodriguez may very well have availed himself of Bosch’s services, and the services in question may very well have made him a slightly better player.

But baseball paid convicted criminals in cash and harassed its employees simply because they had the gall to outwit their boss. Baseball erected its own set of investigative powers that come nowhere near passing a smell test. And at no point has the league mustered much of a justification for its transgressions. We are left to think that the only reason MLB has chased the cheaters so exhaustively is that Selig, on the cusp of retirement, is as shameless as he was during the peak of the steroid era, when he looked the other way at swelling sluggers. Now, his optics shop believes that fans want a drug-free game, so he’s reversed his stance.

To think that the most important part of Alex Rodriguez’s case is whether or not Alex Rodriguez used performance-enhancing drugs is to necessarily endorse MLB’s methods. That strangely Machiavellian naiveté echoes throughout recent American political activity, justifying stop-and-frisk, the broader drug war and all kinds of warrantless wiretapping and surveillance. Come on, just cooperate with us, what do you have to hide? Baseball is still the national pastime.